Old World is out today on Steam! Bruce Geryk and I have an ongoing game underway and we’ll be posting an update every ten turns. Here is our starting situation.
One of my fondest early videogame memories is playing the 1988 adaptation of William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It was just a point-and-click adventure game, but it had a cyberspace to hack into. Once you got in, you could subvert and solve stuff in the point-and-click parts of the game. This interplay between cyberspace and meatspace was my introduction to hacking. Real hacking, not that stuff in Matthew Broderick movies. Here was a way to sneak around guards, get through locked doors, activate switches, and generally get away with stuff I wasn’t supposed to do. Here was stealth gameplay that didn’t mean standing in the dark parts of the level design, memorizing patrol routes, and reloading the game when I got spotted. This was stealth for guys like me fascinated by systems within systems within systems. If I could handle the MFDs in an F-19, by golly, I could upgrade my deck to slip past some ICE!
It’s been an interesting stretch for hacking games, but hacking too often means “doing some minigames”.Continue reading →
In 2021, I finally came to appreciate the Hitman games, although part of appreciating them is realizing how little they’ve progressed since their latest model. Hitman III is great, to be sure. But it’s also just more levels for Hitman I, so this would easily make my list of top ten games of 2016. When it came to roguelikes, I enjoyed Returnal’s dark sci-fi/horror aesthetic despite my inability to get past Housemarque’s trademark “get good” barrier. Imagine Earth was a smartly focused planetary development game based on head to head competition with other players. It was a realtime boardgame, really. Although unlike a boardgame, it’s hard to read, and not just because the developers thought it would be cute to make you spin a 3D globe instead of look at a map. Remember, developers, 3D globes are never a good idea.
The goofy excesses of Outriders and Necromunda: Hired Gun were my gunplay of choice in 2021. Halo Infinite was a welcome change, focusing on what it does best in a sandbox instead of in corridors (at least until the end), with easily skippable cutscenes and multiplayer I can ignore because if Halo players are mad at it, I’m sure not going to want to play it. Speaking of, I have no intention of buying whatever iPad alternatives Microsoft is pushing, so I wish they would stop saddling games with godawful tablet interfaces in an attempt to get me to buy some dumb hardware. Jamming big square panels onto Age of Empires IV, Forza Horizon 5, and Halo: Infinite just reminds me that these games are published by the same people who thought the Kinect was a good idea.
I was disappointed with Deathloop, a massive step backwards from the Mooncrash DLC for Prey that inspired it. Other notable disappointments include Riftbreaker for being a thrilling wide-open resource-management action-RPG…that had nowhere to go. SGS’ Halls of Montezuma and especially Heia Safari explored fascinating historical crannies wargames rarely visit, but they were undone by the usual wargaming bugbears of bad AIs and worse interfaces. Red Solstice 2: Survivors took the first games’ promising action RPG and turned it into an unsupported multiplayer boondoggle. Guardians of the Galaxy was all the splashly dialogue, the splashier color, and the gameplay of your favorite Marvel movie.
Those are some titles that didn’t make the top ten, despite me spending a fair amount of time with them. Which leads us to the games that did make the list…
The wrong way to watch Guillermo del Toro’s adaptation of the 1946 novel Nightmare Alley is by reading the book first. Because then you’ll be one of those tedious “the book was better…!” people. Instead, just watch it as the elaborate period piece it is, none the wiser as to the missed opportunities and pulled punches. In fact, you should probably stop reading here, because I made the mistake of reading the book so this is a review by one of those tedious “the book was better…!” people.Continue reading →
When David Cronenberg adapted James Ballard’s car crash fetish novel, Crash, he made a movie about a bunch of weirdos I couldn’t possibly understand. Mainly because they seemed like nonsense ideas rather than actual people. Do actual people bond over recreations of famous car crash fatalities? Is there really a shadowy underground network that stages these things and then they all have sex with each other after they’ve evaded the cops? Are Rosanna Arquette’s leg braces supposed to somehow make her more or less hot? And do Canadians really say “penis” and “semen” when they’re doing dirty talk? Watching Crash was like accidentally stumbling into a Reddit group for some fetish that I never knew existed.Continue reading →
If you’d asked me 20 years ago to name a bunch of Marvel superheroes, I would have done well enough. But if you ask me today? Now that Marvel is as culturally relevant as even the most famous Disney princess, I can probably name dozens. Literally. I bet I could manage the names of at least 24 superheroes without even having to boot up my copy of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 to remember there are superheroes named Crystal and Elsie Bloodstone.
But with today’s announcement of Firaxis’ Marvel game, Midnight Suns, I can raise that number to at least 29:
Through a twisted marriage of magic and science, the nefarious force known as Hydra has revived Lilith, Mother of Demons, after centuries of slumber. Lilith will stop at nothing to complete an ancient prophecy and summon her evil master, Chthon. Pushed to the brink, the Avengers desperately look to fight fire with Hellfire by enlisting the help of the Midnight Suns – Nico Minoru, Blade, Magik, and Ghost Rider – young heroes with powers deeply rooted in the supernatural, formed to prevent the very prophecy Lilith aims to fulfill. Together, they resurrect an ancient warrior – the Hunter, Lilith’s forsaken child and the only hero known to have ever defeated her.
On one hand, I’m glad to see Disney exploring the, uh, overlooked elements of their shiny new IP. But on the other hand, they couldn’t spare something a little more mainstream for the folks at Firaxis who brought us XCOM? I have heard of exactly two of the characters in that premise, one famous because he was played by Nicolas Cage, and the other famous for an aphorism about obstreperous individuals unwilling to accept the gravitational dynamics of ice skating.
Firaxis will be showing off Midnight Suns gameplay next week. Until then, I’m imagining the superhero X-com we’ve all been dreaming about since Simtex’s Guardians: Agents of Justice was canceled.
The 275th update — not an exaggeration! — to Star Traders: Frontiers has finally added mod support to the Trese Brothers’ sprawling and lovingly intricate space opera. With the release of this update, they’ve announced five mods currently available. Most of them are the usual cruft. Little more than cheats, really. Hack your crew to max level! Insanely powerful ships to run roughshod over the official content! New classes that are really just remixes of existing classes! I can be dismissive because I haven’t actually tried any of them.
However, one of the mods I haven’t tried reminds me of a Firefly-inspired challenge to play Star Traders: Frontiers with fewer crew members, each of whom matter more. In its current state, Star Traders: Frontiers is about managing a few dozen crew members. If one or two mutiny or get killed, eh, no big deal, you’ve got plenty more. But what if they weren’t so disposable? What if none of them wore red shirts? Two years ago, that was the premise behind a Firefly community challenge. Today, it’s the premise behind the Merchant Marine: Fly Casual mod.
Of course, there are sure to be scads of Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Expanse, Defiance, and Dr. Who mods. I’m not sure if Steam hosts these anymore or if you’ll have to go to someplace like nexusmods.com to get them. But I am sure they’ll be out there. I’ll be holding out for a Dune total conversion.
What a great time to be a fan of ray tracing! Whatever that is. I couldn’t tell you what ray tracing is if my life depended on it. Something to do with reflections and light? I figure it’s like lens flare: if I notice it, it’s not doing its job. But I’d have to know what it is to notice it. So, hurrah, ray tracing has finally come to Ratchet & Clank thanks to the power of the Playstation 5! And since I haven’t noticed it, it must be working!
Wait, hold on, what’s this setting in the options menu?Continue reading →
It can take a long time for your cities in Old World to finish whatever they’re doing. Whether you’re producing a worker, a scout, a military unit, walls, a treasury, or a gardener for your lavender grove, it can take literally years. Sometimes as many as a dozen! Who has time for that? Which is where hurrying comes in. It’s a tradition in strategy games like this. If you want that settler now, you can have it. So long as you pay extra.
But like many elements of Old World, it doesn’t work like you might expect, and it’s not very well documented. You can puzzle over the tooltips, but the overall concept isn’t explained very well. Here’s what Old World has to say about itself: “Hurrying can be unlocked with Laws, Archetypes, or Family Classes.” Not terribly helpful. So let me explain hurrying in the kind of detail you need to actually take advantage of it.Continue reading →
Oh, look, half of 2021 is gone already. I hadn’t noticed that it was time to take stock of the best games of the year so far. Note that anything that might have come out on or after July 1st, perhaps distracting me from other things, isn’t eligible. So let’s take a look at the best game of 2021 that came out before midnight, June 30th.Continue reading →
Families aren’t a discrete system in Old World. They’re also not something you can easily relate to other games you’ve played. They’re not like combat, or income, or technology, or culture, or religion. Instead, they’re all of those things and more. They’re Old World’s middle layer, interacting with the smaller scale of individual characters and the larger scale of strategic gameplay, influencing and influenced on both sides. Think of them as the glue that holds the Civilization IV to the Crusader Kings.
Part of Old World’s brilliance as a design is how it combines its three distinct scales: personal, social, and geopolitical. Imagine a wargame that you play at a tactical, operational, and strategic level. You assign resources to train troops, then you arrange those troops into armies and move them around a map, and then you control individual soldiers as they fight a battle. Crazy, right? It can’t be done! Now imagine you play all three levels simultaneously. Even crazier!
As videogamers, we’re used to designs like Creative Assembly’s Total War series or the X-com model, in which a tactical layer is wrapped in a strategic shell. And we’re even used to games like Civilization V trying to combine a strategy game with a tactical layer of moving units around terrain, shooting arrows over lakes, and taking cover in hills. But Old World combines three separate scales, all woven into the gameplay at the same time, all affecting and affected by each other constantly. Nearly every moment of everything you do in Old World will percolate through its personal, social, and geopolitical gameplay. Families are the social level and today I’d like to break down how they affect the larger scale of developing your cities.Continue reading →
Mohawk Games’ Old World is finally out of early access today. And if you’re like me and you’ve been waiting for the full release, I should warn you that it might be a bumpy ride. Brace yourself. Is that godawful clattering sound everything falling apart, or is it the rollercoaster being pulled to the top of an impending thrill ride?Continue reading →
I’ve spent decades denigrating the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre as artless trash. I’m not sure when I first saw it. Probably in college, sometime around 1990. That was also the last time I saw it. Since then, I’ve seen Tobe Hooper’s other movies. I’ve rewatched Invaders from Mars, Lifeforce, Eaten Alive, Funhouse, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel in the last few years, and they’re all varying degrees of horrible (the conventional wisdom about Poltergeist, which is still great, is that Spielberg actually directed it). It’s been my assertion all along that Tobe Hooper is a terrible director, and although there might be something raw and effective in his first movie, it’s artless trash.
I was wrong. So egregiously wrong.Continue reading →
Necromunda: Hired Gun is the best Spider-Man game since Spider-Man. My magic web-shooter/grappling hook can get me anywhere I can see. A quick thwip and I’m standing on a ledge high overhead! The double-jump assist is just gravy. But unlike Sony’s 2018 love letter to Silver Age superheroics, Hired Gun lives in a grim Warhammer world where I didn’t jump up to this ledge for thrills; I jumped up here to snipe a bunch of crazy dudes sporting plasma rifles, blue Mohawks, and skull flair. Also, I’ve got a dog tagging along and I’m toting serious firepower of my own. Frankly, the dog isn’t much of a dog anymore. When I upgrade him, I swap out his dog parts for robot parts. A paw here, a leg there, one side of his face, a jaw, another leg. He may not be as furry as he used to be, but he’s still a good boy. I summon him with a squeaky toy (Warhammer needs more humorous touches like this). As for the guns, they’re not foolin’ around. This is the Warhammer universe, so they’re absurdly large heavy hitters, even when they’re just pistols. They have names like Deathbringer, Funeral Ball, Burning Sun, and Scars Machina. They take up a lot of screen real estate.Continue reading →
Ben Wheatley is back in fine form after his brief detour remaking obscure Hitchcock movies!